The very groups predicted to swell the numbers of Democrats are also those least likely to show up at the polls, especially in non-presidential elections. For example, in 2014, a non-presidential year, voters ages 18-29 constituted only 13% of the electorate, compared with those 65 and older, who were 22% of those casting ballots. In 2012, a presidential year, the youngest cohort of voters was a more robust 19%.
A strong youth turnout in presidential elections favors Democrats, but the falloff of the youth vote in non-presidential elections magnifies the influence of Republican-leaning groups such as seniors. This tends to produce a situation in which, increasingly, Democratic presidents will face a Republican Congress and hostile governors.
Turnout for Democrats is equally underwhelming in non-presidential years with minorities, most notably African Americans, the most loyal Democrats. The party has been heartened by the rise of Hispanics in the population, but a portion of that rise includes the estimated 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S., most of whom are Hispanic and cannot legally vote. Even among those who can, turnout has been dismal. Last year, more than 43% of likely non-voters were identified as non-white. President Obama lamented this anemic contribution to Democratic voting strength shortly after the 2014 elections. But what of 2016?
Intensity of feeling drives participation in elections, and one of the most intense groups has been the backers of Donald Trump. This is partly because of his celebrity and bumptious oratory, but there is an audience out there for the issues he has chosen to emphasize that extends well beyond Trump himself, an unlikely GOP presidential nominee. These issues, captured by a more electable Republican, will certainly enhance GOP turnout in 2016.